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How Canadian soldiers reacted to news of an armistice in 1918

For some Canadian soldiers on the front line, news of the end of the First World War began with rumours.

'You don't think it's come to a conclusion too readily if you're still getting sniped at'

People on Yonge Street celebrating the end of the First World War, Toronto, Ont., November 11, 1918. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

"At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month" is a phrase that is heard each year on Remembrance Day, referring to the exact time, day and month of the signing of the 1918 Armistice to end the First World War.

But just how did the news sink in for troops who were still in the midst of battle when the end was declared?  
Canadians march through the streets of Mons, Nov. 11, 1918. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-003547)

In the mid-1960s, CBC Radio's Flanders Fields told the story of the war through interviews with veterans. According to some, talk of a coming end was greeted with laughter. 

"An armistice?  No, you'll be fighting here at this time of year," was the reaction of W.A. Dunlop. 

As G. Little, of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, put it: "You don't think it's come to a conclusion too readily if you're still getting sniped at."

Soldiers still in the thick of the fighting in 1918 find the possibility of an end difficult to believe. 2:51
 

C.H. Mitchell summed up the confusion of hearing that suddenly it was all over: "You were wondering what it was all about, you were fighting the day before and men being killed and the next day the war's all finished."

A member of the 19th Battalion talks about trying to grasp that the war was over. 0:26

A G. Kilpatrick, chaplain with the 42nd battalion, described the entry into Mons, Belgium. The town had been occupied by Germany since 1914, until it was liberated by the Canadians on Nov. 11, 1918

He described the "perfect furor of enthusiasm" of the civilians, as they hung flags they had hidden during the occupation and greeted the Canadians as they marched in.

42nd Battalion resting in the Grand Place, Mons, Belgium, on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918. (The Canadian Press)
Capt. G. Kilpatrick reflects on his ride into a "beflagged and decorated" Mons. 0:56

'He never knew that it was over'

Arthur Goodmurphy told Flanders Fields the story of the death of his 28th Battalion comrade George Price.  

Considered to be the last Canadian to have been killed before the war ended, Price's official time of death is two minutes before the shooting stopped.

Grave of George Lawrence Price, killed Nov. 11, 1918. He was the last Canadian to die before the armistice ended the First World War. (CBC Archives)

According to Goodmurphy, it was Price's last-minute decision to make sure there were not Germans hidden across from where their group had been told to halt and wait. 

When he told his commanding officer that they had gone to investigate and Price had been killed, Goodmurphy said "he [blew] a fuse."

The story of the death of the last Canadian soldier, as told by another soldier from his battalion. 2:26

The officer told him: "The war's over!"

"Poor old Price, he never knew that it was over, you know," said Goodmurphy. "He was just doing his job."

The complete episode of the program Flanders Fields can be heard below.

First-person accounts by veterans of the First World War, on learning of the signing of the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918. 58:00